Plenty of money up for grabs – if BISD wants it

Plenty of money up for grabs – if BISD wants it

UPDATE: At its meeting Thursday night, July 26, the BISD Board of Trustees voted 4-2 to extend electrician Calvin Walker's contract with the district, despite his recent plea.

The Beaumont Independent School District Board of Trustees must decide whether to go after funds it feels are owed to the district in light of Calvin Walker’s plea deal with the government last Tuesday, July 17. According to Robert Hobbs, the U.S. Attorney in charge of the Beaumont Division, there is expected to be money left over from the $3.2 million that the BISD electrician forfeited as part of his plea deal.

Walker, 51, pleaded guilty to federal tax violations, essentially acknowledging that he failed to pay federal income taxes in 2009 on a check he received from BISD for $1,592,389.10 for work he did for the district. While the federal government doesn’t distinguish between a felony and misdemeanor, from a state law perspective it would be considered a misdemeanor. The offense is punishable by up to a year in federal prison and a fine. The $3.2 million is from two annuities that Walker purchased in September and October 2009. If BISD decides not to go after what’s left of the $3.2 million, the government, which has possession of the funds, will put the money in the U.S. Treasury.

The Board, which will meet Thursday, July 26, at the BISD Administration Building at 3395 Harrison, will vote on whether to extend Walker’s contract with the district, according to the meeting agenda. The agenda also indicated the board will request from the U.S. Attorney’s office a package “put together for the board’s attorney which can be shared with all members of the board” that would include the “various exhibits used in trial to explain the altered documents as well as an explanation of the remission process.”

While some BISD board members have stated publicly they’re not sure if the district is owed money, Walker admitted as part of his plea deal that he “altered” a $382,975.32 invoice that was sent to BISD. According to a press release from U.S. Attorney John M. Bales released last week, the invoice actually turned out to be a quote and was not a purchase order, thus the items the invoice slated for purchase were never actually purchased by Walker.

“Walker’s check payable to that wholesaler in the amount of $382,975.32 was never presented to the wholesaler or negotiated,” according to the release from Bales’ office. “Records of the BISD also contained similar altered documents purportedly from the same electrical supplier matching invoices submitted by Walker for materials in other projects.”

Walker, who has not yet been sentenced, faces up to a year in federal prison; however it’s unlikely that will happen considering his attorney, Dick DeGuerin, and the prosecution agreed not to recommend jail time as part of the deal. Despite giving up the $3.2 million, Walker will still get to keep his 2010 Mercedes Benz S550, valued at roughly $60,000 according to Kelly Blue Book. He’ll also retain two parcels of land on Pleasure Island as well as checks from BISD that DeGuerin said total roughly $600,000.

DeGuerin would not go into specifics about how the plea deal was reached, but alluded to a “meeting of the minds” that ultimately led to a plea being struck just days before a second trial would’ve started Monday, July 23.

“Every lawyer has an obligation to explore all the possibilities, and I mean lawyers for someone that’s accused and the lawyers for the prosecution,” said DeGuerin. “I believe that here, where 12 reasonable people could not agree on even a single of the 37 counts, that the prosecution quite reasonably believed that a conviction would be extremely difficult and we believed we could win the case. And when you have a meeting of the minds, it plays out like something we just did, and they dismissed the criminal case. And what we’re left with is a misdemeanor that does not involve fraud or dishonesty.”

Hobbs also declined to comment on what led to the government offering Walker a deal, and said his office would have more to say after sentencing, which Hobbs said is likely to occur sometime in late September or early October.

A big question that remains, though, is what will be done with the remainder of the $3.2 million after fines, court costs and taxes on the $1.5 million are paid. Hobbs said with three different tax rates, it would be difficult to speculate how much money would be left, whereas DeGuerin said he anticipated “less than half or so” would be available.

The leftover money will then be transferred electronically to the Department of Justice Asset Forfeiture Fund, where any victims are then free to stake their claim to what they’re owed, Hobbs said.

“There’s a process for victims, and we’ll provide them the forms, but they’ll petition for the return of their money; it’s a process that’s been in place for quite some time,” said Hobbs. “As in everything with the government, there’s a bureaucracy involved, there are some forms, but that’s how it works.”

Now, determining how much money the victim – in this case, BISD – is owed will require the government and BISD to work together to come to a dollar amount. That’s if the trustees choose to lay claim to the funds.

“Once the tax liability is calculated, we’ll know exactly what’s left of that $3.2 million for distribution,” said Hobbs. “And then there’s a process that we go through, and formally they’ll have to include how they were victimized. And most of that information, in fact all that evidence, is part of ours, so we’ll be able to help them determine that figure.”

Tom Neild, BISD trustee, said BISD needs to look at going after the funds that Walker forfeited despite the outcome of the trial.

“This (money) is not coming out of Calvin Walker’s pocket; this is money that Calvin Walker has forfeited and has admittedly stated that he altered documents,” said Neild. “This is not money Mr. Walker is having to pay; these are funds he has willingly forfeited.”

DeGuerin, who maintains that his client never overbilled BISD, is steadfast that his client should continue to work for BISD and that the district isn’t entitled to any more money.

“What the trial showed was that BISD got everything they bargained for,” said the longtime criminal defense attorney. “There were no shortages, the work was done on time and it was done in a workmanlike, satisfactory manner. It passed all the inspections, so I don’t think BISD is owed any money whatsoever.”